Monday, 17 October 2011

I been tryin’ to get to New Orleans (Can’t you help me?).

Part 1

Growing up beside rivers and creeks, inland water has always held a special attraction. Willows, stinging nettles, river cane and blade grass have lifted me up, stung, hidden and cut me. I have been pricked by flailing dog fish, bitten by mosquitoes and chased off by snakes. Rivers have sated my hunger and my thirst, they have dragged me and cooled me. Wherever I go in this world, wherever I meet a river, I am taken back home. And in this way, though I have never been, the Mississippi calls me.

When I was a boy, I played a computer game with my friends, North South. In this game the player chooses to be Union or Confederate and leads her side to victory. As a child I knew that the north won and that it was the side to choose. Yet the nation of factories, railroads and industry I would defend seemed so alien when compared to the agrarian south.

In high school a friend of mine played me his copy of Down’s first album, Nola. While it would be several years until I could fathom this slice of southern heavy metal, the hazy psyche-out artwork collages of mansions, rivers, swamps and trees articulated an aesthetic to me which I carry to this day. In the centre of the CD booklet is a photo of the band members walking bearded, tattooed, shirted and shirtless through a cemetery under a bright blue sky. They walked with such strength, purpose and pride. Not rednecks but proud to be from the South.

Earlier this year I watched the excellent HBO series, Treme. The story of Treme is told from multiple perspectives and successfully explains via demonstration the very kernel of New Orleans’ jazz, joy and sorrow. Scenes of flooded streets, receding floodwaters, flood damage struck a chord with me, transporting me once more to my birthplace, the frequently flooded Northern New South Wales city of Lismore.

Now it seems as though everywhere and every way I turn, parallels between the Crescent City and my own continue to multiply. And that is why I want to go, that is why I am trying to get to New Orleans. Somehow even though I have never been there, I belong there. The rivers of my childhood flowed into the ocean and surely at least an atom or two of that flow whether as rain or as the ocean made it to the Gulf of Mexico.

I’ve been tryin’ to get to New Orleans… can’t you help me?

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